Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas 2013 in Review

Here is a short review of some of our activities over the holidays:

Father-son date eating hot pot
Polar express party complete with hot chocolate, fun marshmallows, and coloring pages

My sweet friend who helps me stay sane

Not a great quality picture, but a moment I wanted to remember: my three children while they are still small, enjoying a Christmas movie together.

Our homeschool coop project taking bags of working gloves, fruit, cookies, nuts, candy, and pens to the workers in our complex

Coop Christmas party playing dirty santa.  Eden got a bag of red hots, which she gave to Jacob for Christmas, and Ephraim got a hero factory guy.

Christmas shopping with Kristalyn, who treated me to a Starbucks drink!

Xavier was sick for a very long week before Christmas.  I let him open a present from my Aunt Linda early because I so badly wanted him to play and be "normal" for a little while.  It was a really cool little smart car.

Poor sick baby.  Finally feeling better on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve dinner!  I made pasta fagioli soup, broccoli salad, molasses cookies, and Santa's snowflakes (my Granny's recipe).  Jonathan brought cinnamon rolls and amazing stuffed mushrooms, and Kristalyn brought 4 kinds of cookies.  The chocolate balls with mint were my favorite.  We watched the Muppet Christmas Carol, and Jacob read the real Christmas Story.

The kids in their Christmas pajamas, sent by my sister, sitting with Kristalyn in my Christmas present from Jacob and my family!  I have wanted a chair like this since I was a teenager, and they are much cheaper here in China.  :)

We miss our family, and "Aunt" Kristalyn is a great comfort to the kids

My happy baby is back!

Eden's note to Santa: Dear Santa for Christmas I want a bike a princess in the Pop Star one (veggie tales).  Don't be too hard on yourself.  Well, I actually I made up my mind for Christmas I want a Charlie Brown blue pen.  Merry Christmas  ( This was after I explained that it would be difficult to ride her bike on the ice.  :)
 Christmas Day lunch.  We ate Mexican food!
Christmas night I took Eden to my favorite coffee shop for some bonding time after a week of having my hands full with sick Xavier.  We worked on making a princess book.  We sat on the third floor because they were having a concert on the second floor.  Eden kept going over to watch.  Shortly this cute little Chinese boy, looking a few years older than Eden brought us 3 molasses cookies.  I had one, and Eden chowed down on the rest.  She went over to watch again, and I snapped this picture.  Sweet moments :)

I went to check on the kids after putting them to bed that night, and found Ephraim sleeping in the tent he got for Christmas.

Showers of Blessing:
All of the above.  It's a lot to be thankful for.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Our Greatest Gift...

This Christmas our greatest gift came actually on December 12th.  My son is now my brother.  Twice adopted, he is part of a new family.  It was an ordinary evening after a long day.  We were tired, and considering giving up our regular bedtime routine of reading for advent, and just putting the kids to bed.  Jacob, however, decided to start reading, which led to discussion, and deep conversation.  Initially, Eden had some deep questions and emotions, but didn't quite understand.  I had felt this moment coming with Ephraim, however.  He listens intently, and asks amazingly deep and mature questions.  When he was ready we told him the seriousness of his committment, and he was still ready.  Let us not grow weary in doing good.  It is such a blessing and a burden lifted to know his sincerity.  It is a lifelong road ahead.  Please lift him up.  
Showers of Blessing:
Husband who makes the most of opportunities even when tired
Eden's searching heart

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fruit and Spicy Duck Neck

A beautiful fruit basket and a variety of spicy food packages, including duck neck, were the gifts class four brought to our home this week.  Star fruit was a new fruit for us, and the kids loved it.  Not sure we will get to the duck neck...The menu last week was such a hit that I made the same thing this time, subbing banana bread for the nobakes.  This group, though smaller, was just as hungry.  In fact, I didn't even get any soup!  They were the shyest and most quiet group of all.  Part of this had to do with the lack of sleep they were getting from studying for finals.  Nevertheless, there was interesting conversation, as usual.  I found out C had the Julia Child cookbook that I had left at home, and she loves to cook.  We made a plan over the break to cook french food together.  One of the guys has read stories from the OT, and is currently reading the NT.
He had a lot of questions for Jacob, and we are so excited.  Jacob is hoping to spend more time with him in the near future, studying this.  K and W had a lot of deep questions.  They seem to have confused and searching hearts.  Many of the girls were interested in the ceramic nativity that we had on our table.  Thankfully, someone had left it behind for us to use.  I explained it, and They took pictures of it.  Eden and Ephraim were not quite themselves this time.  Eden was feeling shy, but still had fun with the girls making a Christmas book.  Ephraim was super hyper, talking in his squeaky voice, but still enjoyed winning at UNO with the students.  On a humorous note, one of the girls couldn't remember how to say kitchen.  She asked, "chicken or kitchen."  Adorable.  On a sweet note, we found out the last class loved coming to our place so much that they are making a video about it.

Showers of Blessing:
Star fruit
Family that sacrifices to send us packages, including my favorite Christmas movie as a surprise from my Mom, so comforting
Children still willing to interact with our students, even when they are hyper and shy
Our Father, our provider
Nativity left behind by others

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our Window

After we had decorated for Christmas one night, I looked out our living room window and felt emptiness.  I could see literally hundreds of apartment windows, and not a single one was lit up with a tree for this special holiday.  Growing up in Africa, I was used to our tree being the only one I knew of in the village that we lived in.  We even decorated a plant one time.  However, it wasn't because there was no one who knew what this holiday was about.  There were many who didn't, but we would still spend that day with our whole fellowship in our yard for a feast.  My parents donated the meat and filled huge igloos full of koolaid.  An elder, Kwame Paul, loooved koolaid, and it was always fun to see him laugh, continuously filling his cup.  The kids played soccer, the men talked, and the women cooked the best African food I have ever tasted.  We shared that day with like minded people.  Those are some of my favorite memories.  Here few know what it is really about.  Most we come in contact with have never heard the story.  Despite this overwhelming void, I know that He is pursuing hearts.  I hope when people pass by and see the tree lights shining from our window, that they wonder why, deep in their soul.  Then, I hope they do everything they can to find out.

Showers of blessing:
Thankful to know the reason for the season
Pandora's holiday music
Parents who modeled generosity, hospitality, and loving people
Sweet memories

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Advent Begins

We set aside one day a few weeks ago to decorate our Christmas tree, and, honestly, it was a long and somewhat frustrating process till we actually got to the decorating.  I was a bit more impatient and stressed than I would like to admit.  When it was all said and done, we had a lot to be thankful for.   The only things I brought with me were the kids' stockings (except for Xavier; I found him one this week at a market.) and cookie cutters.  A family left behind a huge beautiful tree for us to use, Christmas paper plates, napkins, a tiny nativity, and a few decorations.  Jacob went across town and found Christmas lights and a snowman decoration.  There were 5 pine cone ornaments and one snowman bell ornament left behind.  Not wanting to spend money in this department, I decided we could make our own.  It was a time consuming project, but it turned out better than I thought.  
Now our tree is decorated with apple cinnamon and salt dough ornaments, including handprint and footprint ones donated by Xavier, hung by cinnamon dental floss.  Hehe.  Just adds to the Christmas smell, right?!  Anyway, we spent quite a bit of time and thoughtfulness over how we wanted this season to look like for our family; what things we could and should keep the same, and what things should be different.  The kids still belive in Santa, and we are still doing elf on the shelf because I didn't want them associate loss of fun or imagination after coming here.  My mom thoughtfully mailed them chocolate advent calendars like we have every year.  It's been a family tradition since I was little.  We really desire the main thing to be the main thing, though.  
This year instead of our elf watching them to see if they are naughty or nice, he is showing them examples of grace by being naughty and nice, teaching them that we all make mistakes and need forgiveness.  Ever since they named him Larry Boy St. Nick last year, they have wanted to change his name.  I finally gave in, and told them it was ok since we changed Ephraim's name by adding a middle name and giving him a new last name.  He liked that a lot.  Though we have missed a few nights, we are also trying to do advent in our home.  
Since the calendars are challenging to find, I purchased an "advent box" that they discover something in every morning to symbolize what we will be doing or discussing that day.  The tree was our first one, and our most meaningful one, so far, has been a cloth for feet washing with a conversation on serving others, humbling yourself, and getting dirty.  I must admit, I first heard of the Jesse tree this year, thanks to other families here that use that, and hope to incorporate that next year.  I am so thankful for the other Mom's I am surrounded with who are great at brainstorming opportunities to serve, and teach our children about the real meaning of this time of year.  At the upcoming coop party, one of them is teaching our kids about the myths of the story, like wise men coming to the stable, etc.  
Others organized getting the kids involved in making gift bags for the people who clean the apartment stairwells and guard the gates in our community, and our city org.  is participating in a project to provide socks, hats, and toys, to kids outside our city.  I am so grateful for these people who are awesome examples of seeing a need, and doing what it takes to meet those needs.  If you have ideas on how to make the holidays more meaningful, we would love to hear about it!

Showers of Blessing:
Huge beautiful tree and decorations left behind by others.
Kids who are receptive to change and and excited by new ideas.
Other Moms and friends with great ideas.
Thoughtful Mom sending chocolate calendars.
Paper snowflakes by Eden.
Ephraim delighting in the association of his name change with changing the elf's name to Chippy Marshmallow.
Cute baby footprint on my tree.
Christmas paper plates and napkins.
A husband who constantly seeks ways to lead our family, like marking off spots on a candle to burn each night for advent, having those evening conversations about serving others, washing our kids' feet.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Class Three

Wednesday, we had our third party for one of Jacob's classes.  This time I made a Chinese substituted version of my friend, Verla's pasta fagioli soup with breadsticks and no-bakes.  Despite the appearances in the picture, I made more food this time than ever before, and there was barely a crumb left at the end of the night.  I had two pots of soup, 5 bowls of breadsticks, and a double batch of cookies.  They were a hungry crew!  I had been putting off buying fruit this week, since I figured they would bring us some like the last two groups.  One should never make assumptions.  They arrived with all kinds of gifts, and we were quite shocked.  They put a lot of effort into it, and were so proud.  Among the gifts were hats for Jacob and the kids, lovely aromatic flowers for me, and some yummy sweet coated hawthorne fruit that I thoroughly enjoyed.  
It reminds me of a cross between a strawberry and a very tart apple.  Upon arriving, a few of the girls joined me in the kitchen, and finished making the breadsticks.  As in most places, appearance is very important, and one girl's breadstick was quite deformed.  The other girls were laughing, so I told them it doesn't matter how it looks because it will taste good anyway.  There was a group of about 5 girls that I spent most of the night chatting with.  The other two groups had left by 8:30, and this one stayed till 9:40!  We were glad they didn't leave any earlier, though, because we were having such meaningful conversation.  One girl, K, loved Xavier!  He was grumpy, and did not want to be held by anyone else that night.  That did not deter her, though.  She kept pursuing him, and, by the end of the night, he was happy in her arms.  
Ephraim faithfully entertained a group with games again, and Eden wrote a book about fishermen with some of the girls. They remarked on how surprised they were that our children listened to us the first time about things.  I'm sure I must have made some sarcastic remark about them not always listening, because one of them piped up, and stated that children here never listen that quickly.  I'm sure that's not always the case, by the way.  Eventually I wound up on the floor in Eden's room in a small circle of girls.  Our conversation started off by them asking about the kids' education, and wound up with their's.  We were talking about goals and dreams.  They kept asking questions like: when my goals started, how I achieved them, etc.  I was thankful to tell them the reason for my goals.  At one point, R stated that they don't have time for goals and beliefs because their only goal is to get into college, and they spend 18 hour days at school during high school.  
One of them said it was  "misleading" because then when they get into college, they aren't sure what to do because getting in has been their only goal.  At this point, they had very serious and some sad expressions on their faces.  Their lives are often very hard.  One girl stated she was becoming a teacher because that is what her mother has wanted her to be for so long.  I was able to share that my Mom always taught me to become whatever He wants me to be.  I told them that I am trying to teach that to my children.  Sometimes, Eden would say, "Mom, I want to be a nurse when I grow up like you." I would tell her that was fine, as long as that's what He wants her to be, etc. 
 (Right now she wants to run a lemonade stand when she grows up.)  Ephraim is so good about listening to this because he now goes around and says what he wants to be, and how he's going to be with his wife and children, as long as He wants him to.  It's precious.  One girl, M, was very outspoken and inquisitive about the words written around our home and our lifestyle.  She has had wonderful people in her family speaking into her heart and is very close.   I was putting Xavier to bed when they started leaving, so I missed the opportunity to catch M's number, but I hope to get it soon.  She and several of the other girls were very kind and easy to connect with.  At the end of these nights my heart is conflicted: bursting with purpose, gratefulness to meet these amazing people, yet heavy for their hearts.  
Showers of Blessing:
Kind inquisitive M, who seems so close, 
thanks to seeds planted by others
Hawthorne fruit
Ephraim's already sensitive heart to His calling
Fresh flowers in winter
Finding a good meal that everyone liked

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Chinese Thanksgivng Party

Saturday before Thanksgiving, we had the privilege of going to a Thanksgiving Party held by the school Jacob teaches at. We knew there would be no Thanksgiving dinner, and that there would probably be games of some sort.  Other than that, we weren't quite sure what to expect.  The school is a short 15 minute walk away, but the roads were snowy and icy that night.  Two teachers picked us and our teammates up in their cars at 6:15, and we were on our way.  Before entering the classroom, we were greeted by a friendly woman from Pakistan, H, and her 3 year old son. She was very kind, and eager to make friends.  We talked at various points throughout the night, and, by the end of our evening, she gave me her phone number, and invited me to dinner sometime.  When we entered, most of the students were sitting at tables covered in sunflower seeds, unshelled peanuts, candy and other packaged treats.  Our kids went immediately for the candy, of course.  There was a short presentation, and then the games began!
Our table won the first game, and we received our choice of decorative ink pens as a prize.  There were several other games, including a guessing game.  I have to admit, the "Angelina JUlie" part cracked me up.  Both kids instantly took to one of the girls there, A.  They played games with her, and A gave Eden her phone number.  Eden wrote her a card that I need to get to her soon.  They also had a time where the team with the lowest points had to share whatever was found on the papers in the balloons they popped.  Some of this involved singing.  Then, there were others who volunteered to sing afterward.  Eden was one of them.  She sang, "This is my Father's world."  She is so brave.  H also sang an Indian song; very beautiful.  As she was hastily leaving, a friendly New Yorker/Canadian gave me her card while stating, "Us expats never talk to each other."  Hoping to invite her to dinner soon, so that's no longer true. Overall, it was a fun evening, and we got a ride back with another teacher who brought her cute toddler daughter.

Thanksgiving party number two was held at our place, along with two other teammates.  Our team leader, Kristalyn, blessed us by ordering a turkey online!  It still amazes me!  It was a good day.  There were moments where I started to feel overwhelmed, and the stress was starting to show.
I was reminded that children generally remember holidays.  I didn't want mine to remember it being a stressful event.  So, I asked Father to help me, and put on a cartoon for the kids, served with hot chocolate.  Eden and Ephraim helped tidy, and Eden made the thanksgiving banner and helped decorate the chalkboard.  Our team leader was recovering from knee surgery, and the walk to our apartment was her first time out in several days.  She made the yeast rolls, which didn't last long at our house.  Our teammate, Jonathan, made the stuffing and mashed potatoes, and he graciously shelled the roasted pecans for me.  This is the first year Kristalyn has noticed pecans here, so we are very grateful.  A friend also donated a bag of shredded coconut that she had received in a package from the states.  I cooked the turkey.  It was only my second time to cook a turkey.
I was nervous, but it came out great with enough broth to make gravy.  The rest of the menu included my Granny's sweet potato casserole, garlic green beans (couldn't find the ingredients for green bean casserole), deviled eggs (or angel eggs as Kristalyn calls them), pumpkin pie, fudge pecan pie, and whole berry cranberry sauce that I found at an import store.  Xavier got to have turkey for his first time to eat meat.  We talked about what we were thankful for, Kristalyn played Uno and Sequence with the kids, and we watched  a couple of cartoons, including: Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, The Legend of the Candy Cane, and The Crippled Lamb.  It was a wonderful night, and good distraction for being homesick.  

Thanksgiving party number three
 was held Friday, which involved all the members of our org. in our city.  It was a huge potluck, provided with entertainment.  I spent most of my time back with the kids after eating.  I am so thankful to be working alongside so many amazing people from all different backgrounds.  

Showers of Blessing:
School that wants to make us feel at home.
Turkey, pecans, coconut, and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving!
Cute Thanksgiving outfit for Xavier.
Team leader who enjoys and plays with my children.
Thankful for those who have gone before us, enduring hardship, and making our lives here easier.